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More often than not, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls’ soccer team saves its best showing for last.
The Hilltoppers host a first round game of the Class 4A playoffs Saturday.
At the forefront of their hopes for making a run in the playoffs is their star forward, Catie McDonald.
McDonald is the featured scorer for Los Alamos and the one the other teams will have to find a way to slow down in the 4A tournament. But for the Hilltopper sophomore, the past year has been a challenging one.
Last October, on a routine run toward the goal during what should’ve been an unremarkable game against Bernalillo, McDonald went headlong into the steel post at Sullivan Field.
McDonald was taken by ambulance to the hospital and was diagnosed with head trauma, whiplash and a serious shoulder injury.
Instead of being the tag-team partner of one of the most prolific scorers in program history, Amy Neal, on the way to what may have been a run at the state title, McDonald was suddenly relegated to the bench and Los Alamos was bounced in the state semifinals.
While someone suffering a similar injury would be given a pass for downshifting their game, McDonald said that’s not the way she wants to play.
“Now, it’s playing every game like it’s your last,” she said. “They say life can change in the blink of an eye…something like that, it really makes you realize it. Now, it’s that much more invigorating to score.”
And score she has.
McDonald, heading into the postseason, is tied for No. 3 in total points among all 4A players with 68, the same total as Aztec’s Hailey Morris, someone McDonald could see in the quarterfinal round if Los Alamos successfully dispatches Piedra Vista Saturday.
McDonald finished the regular season with 29 goals, trailing Belen’s Alexis Begay and St. Pius’ super freshman Tatiana Limon.
Those impressive numbers have caught the attention of many around prep soccer, but not hers.
“I could care less about stats or my placement in 4A, or my points,” McDonald said. “It’s how I come out of a game feeling and what I did to earn those points. What I do as a player, that’s what matters.”
Following her injury, which occurred at a point in the season where she was also among the 4A leaders in scoring, and not terribly far behind Neal — who now plays soccer for the University of Tennessee — McDonald was away from the pitch for eight months.
When she got back, during the club soccer season, she said she had a period where the “fear factor” was slowing her performance. Then, at a camp in the spring, a coach pulled her aside and said she was missing an aggressive streak that she would need to take her game to another level.
That talk was a light-switch moment for her and McDonald decided it was time to play soccer on her own terms.
“After going through such a huge injury, I’m excited to give it my all,” she said.
And McDonald’s teammates are thrilled to have her along for the ride.
“It’s awesome to play with Catie,” Los Alamos senior Julia Haagenstad said. “She’s a very talented player. It’s awesome to see her dribble through the defense and make her way to the goal…She’s definitely going to go far in her career.”
Even after the season concludes, there’s plenty more soccer for McDonald.
She will take part in Thanksgiving showcase event in Phoenix, and then follow that up with another college showcase event she’s been invited to at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
One of the best things for her this prep season has been playing with her sister, Meghan McDonald, who is another important cog in the Hilltoppers’ engine.
This will be the last hurrah for Catie and Meghan, as Meghan will graduate from the Hilltopper program following the state tournament.
“In my eyes, we’re a dynamic duo,” Catie said. “I love nothing more than playing with her.”